Nagoya

Japan: Tokyo Le Salon du Chocolat – A Chocolate Lover’s Paradise

If you love chocolate then you do not want to miss the chocolate extravaganza known as Le Salon du Chocolat!  Begun in Paris in 1994 and supported by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Le Salon du Chocolat is an annual trade show for the international chocolate industry.  The event has been hosted internationally in such cities as New York, Tokyo, Moscow, Zürich, Beijing and Shanghai and its popularity continues to grow each year.

With over 500 participants from 60 countries, including over 200 renowned chefs and pastry chefs, Le Salon du Chocolat offers a unique and fun opportunity to sample and learn about chocolates from around the world. Here you will find some of the most exclusive high-end chocolates from renowned companies like Jean-Paul Hevin, Michel Richart, Pierre Marcolini, Boissier and Valrhona. You will also find a mix of non-chocolate treats like macaroons and spice laden pain d’épices (spice cake).

The event was so popular in Tokyo that in 2017 it was moved from its previous venue at the Isetan Department Store in Shinjuku to the Tokyo International Forum in Yurakucho, Tokyo, expanding floor space by 5,000 square meters! The event has been held at the Shinjuku location for over 14 years!

Salon du Chocolat Tokyo as it is called, brought together fifty of the top chocolate companies from Japan and around the world to show off and sell their confections. In addition, the top chocolatiers participated in daily talk shows and held meet and greets for their Japanese customers.  There was even a “chocolate inspired” fashion show.

Next stop for Le Salon du Chocolate in Japan will be Kyoto, Osaka, Fukuoka, Sapporo, Nagoya and Sendai.

Web Page:                        http://www.salon-du-chocolat.com/?lang=en

(Photos courtesy of Salon du Chocolat)

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New Book: A Blogger’s Guide to JAPAN

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Friends, good news! My book is now available to purchase online. Please note that if you purchase the book from the CreateSpace eStore, you can use the discount code (YVW7YCQG) to receive $3 off the list price. Worldwide shipment is available.

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Japan: Kyoto (Kyoto Railway Museum/ 京都鉄道博物館)

Earlier, I had written about the Tetsudo Hakubutsukan (鉄道博物館)/ The Railway Museum) located in Saitama City.  Operated by the East Japan Railway Culture Foundation, it is the largest railway museum in Japan. Today, I would like to introduce you to another amazing railway museum. It is one of Japan’s three great railway museums alongside The Railway Museum in Saitama and JR Central’s SCMAGLEV and Railway Park in Nagoya.

Located in Shimogyo-ku, Kyoto, the Kyoto Tetsudo Hakubutsukan (京都鉄道博物館/Kyoto Railway Museum) opened to the public on April 29, 2016. It sits on the former site of the Umekoji Steam Locomotive Museum, which came into existence in 1972.  The museum is owned by West Japan Railway Company (JR West) and is operated by the Transportation Culture Promotion Foundation.

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Covering an area of 30,000 square meters, the museum is divided into several exhibition areas, including a 20-track roundhouse built in 1914 and the Nijo Station Building, relocated from the nearby Nijo Station in 1997. The exhibits include 53 retired trains, ranging from early steam locomotives to more recent electric trains and a shinkansen (bullet train).  Many of the exhibits were inherited from the Modern Transportation Museum in Osaka which has since closed. Visitors will also find displays with railway uniforms, tools and other railway related items from the past.  The museum is home to one of the largest railway dioramas found in Japan.  It contains miniature trains which crisscross an intricately detailed landscape , all operated by a single skilled machinist. There are also a variety of interactive exhibits enabling visitors to drive a train via a simulator or perform the duties of a train conductor. The museum even has a restaurant located on the second floor where patrons can glimpse nice views of the passing trains along the JR Kyoto Line and the Tokaido Shinkansen.  For an additional fee of ¥300, visitors can take a one kilometer journey on a train powered by a steam locomotive.  The typical journey lasts approximately ten minutes.

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Located only 20 minutes on foot from Kyoto Station, the Kyoto Railway Museum affords the ideal opportunity for visitors to appreciate Japan’s steps toward modernization through its railway history.

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The museum is open daily between the hours of 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM. (Closed on Wednesdays and from December 30 to January 1.)

Web page:         http://www.kyotorailwaymuseum.jp/en/

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JAPAN: Culture (Japan’s Pachinko Addiction)

Traveling through Tokyo on the shinkansen (bullet train) and gazing out at the scenery, I couldn’t help but notice how widespread pachinko parlors were in Japan.

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Pachinko is a type of mechanical game resembling a vertical pinball machine that originated in Japan.  The player gets a number of balls by inserting cash or cards directly into the machine. The balls are then shot into the machine by pulling a lever once for each launch from a ball tray. The balls then fall vertically through an array of pins, levers, cups, traps and various obstacles until they reach the bottom of the machine screen. The player has a chance to get more balls to play with if one of the launched balls hit a certain place during the fall through the pachinko machine. The object of the game is to capture as many balls as possible thus remaining in the game longer and increasing your winning odds.

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Sankyo mechanical pachinko machine

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Modern Sankyo pachinko machine

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The arcades and the machines have evolved over the years where the machines now resemble video slot machines and the parlors are more like casinos. For some, pachinko is a recreational arcade game and for many it is a form of gambling. Gambling for cash is illegal in Japan, therefore the balls are exchanged for prizes such as t-shirts, pens, cigarette lighters, perfume, cosmetics, candy or coupons to a nearby grocery store at the pachinko parlor. However, you can also elect to take a voucher which in turn can be exchanged for cash at “exchange centers” distinctly separate from the parlor.

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Exchange Center

At any given time, you can wonder into a pachinko parlor and find players of all ages and backgrounds transfixed on their machines which pack the narrow aisles. It is estimated that one-quarter of Japan’s over-18 population of approximately 100 million plays pachinko at least occasionally and up to 30 million people play pachinko regularly.

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In 1999 the pachinko industry was worth a staggering 30 trillion yen, more than the Japanese motor industry! Further, the current recession doesn’t seem to be affecting pachinko’s prospects. Pachinko is unquestionably Japan’s number one leisure activity.

The first pachinko machines appeared in the 1920s as a children’s game called “Korinto Gemu.”  It wasn’t until the 1930s that they emerged as an adult pastime in Nagoya. During WWII, all of the pachinko parlors in Japan were shut down but re-opened in the late 1940s and the industry has been growing strong ever since.

In the early days, Nishijin and Sankyo were the main manufacturers of pachinko machines.  Today, the Heiwa Corporation, established in Kiryu, Gunma in 1949 is the world’s largest privately owned manufacturer of pachinko and pachislot machines.

So does Japan have a massive gambling habit?  Why not visit a pachinko parlor during your next trip and make that determination for yourself! Also, keep in mind that the Japanese prefer to call it gaming rather than gambling!

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Advertising the opening of a new pachinko center

JAPAN: Gifu (Gero Onsen)

Despite the fact that its name, which means lower bath, is pronounced the same as the slang word for “vomit,” Gero Onsen located in Gifu enjoys over one million visitors each year. It is no wonder as this hot springs was considered one of the top three onsens in Japan since the Edo Period!

As with most hot springs towns, Gero-shi is famous for its public bath houses and ryokans (inns) that cater to visitors year round. There is even a large open-air bath (rotenburo) located at the south end of Gero Bridge which can be used free of charge. But keep in mind, if you choose to bathe here, you are exposed to passersby on the bridge above. If you are shy about immersing your body in the hot spring baths, there are various foot baths scattered throughout the town where you can soak your feet free of charge.

But Gero-shi has much more to offer than just the hot springs. Onsenji Temple located atop a hill behind Gero Onsen Museum is a place of tranquility and incredible views of the valley below. There is no doubt that you will be rewarded for your efforts after climbing the 173 stone steps to the top.

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A quirky place to visit is the Kaeru Jinja or Frog Shrine. You will notice many references to frogs around Gero-shi because in Japanese the word “gero” is also the sound a frog makes, therefore it is a playful connection to the town. The shrine is filled with all kinds of frogs.

Just twenty minutes on foot, northeast of Gero-shi is Gero Onsen Gassho Village where ten thatched A-frame houses from the UNESCO World Heritage site of nearby Shirakawa-go have been re-assembled. Here you can view the houses, see performances and try your hand at traditional folk art. The village is open to the public between the hours of 8:30 AM – 5:00 PM and there is a nominal charge of ¥800 for adults and ¥400 for children.

Gero-shi also hosts a number of festivals throughout the year. On February 14th, a festival originates at the Mori Hachiman Shrine which involves young people dancing while wearing colorful paper hats. On August 1st, the Ryujin Fire Festival takes place. A five-headed dragon and Mikoshi (portable shrine) are paraded through the streets of Gero and men dressed in traditional clothes dance amongst firecrackers. On August 2nd, there is a parade of Geisha floats and Geisha dances are held. A music and fireworks festival takes place on the river bank on August 3rd.

Gero-shi is easily accessible from Nagoya via the JR Hida Limited Express and you can use your Japan Rail Pass!

Web page:         http://www.gero-spa.or.jp/english/

Japan: Aichi Prefecture/ Inuyama (Meiji Mura/ Meiji Museum)

Located just an hour from Nagoya you will find one of Japan’s superb outdoor museums known as Meiji Mura (Meiji Village).

The architectural museum opened in 1965 and displays sixty-seven buildings from the Meiji period (1868-1912), the Taisho period (1912–1926) and the early Showa period (1926–1989). The Meiji period was of particular importance in Japanese history as it marked the end of the country’s feudal age and was a time of rapid change in Japan. The structures from this time period characteristically reflect the influences of Western architecture. Further, these are actual buildings that were moved and reconstructed on the 250 acre property alongside Lake Iruka. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these is the reconstructed main entrance and lobby of Frank Lloyd Wright’s landmark Imperial Hotel, which originally stood in Tokyo from 1923 to 1967. The main structure of the Imperial Hotel was demolished to make way for a new, larger version which stands across from the Imperial Palace today.

Other notable structures include Lafcadio Hearn’s summer house from Shizuoka (1868), St. John’s Church from Kyoto (1907) and Kyoto’s old St. Francis Xavier Catholic Cathedral (1890). Interestingly enough, the cathedral is available to rent for weddings.

The goal of the museum is to preserve these historic early examples of Western architecture mixed with Japanese construction techniques and materials. Nine of the buildings displayed here are designated as Important Cultural Assets and nearly all are registered as Tangible Cultural Assets. A majority of the buildings remain empty while others have displays showing the history of the building, period furniture and other exhibits. There is a steam locomotive, a street car and several shuttle buses and horse-drawn carriages which transport visitors within the grounds.

Aside from touring the buildings, visitors to the museum can enjoy performances by a kabuki troupe in the Kurehaza Theater and partake in sake tastings in Kyoto’s former Nakai Brewery.

Meiji Mura is divided into five areas and touring the park will require a full day. You can reach the park from Nagoya Station via the Meitetsu Inuyama Line, exit Inuyama Station. From there transfer to a Meitetsu bus to Meiji Mura. The journey will take approximately 20 minutes.

 

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Imperial Hotel

Bride & Groom pose inside the Imperial Hotel for wedding photos

Bride & Groom pose inside the Imperial Hotel for wedding photos

Web page:         http://www.meijimura.com/english/index.html

Address:             1 Uchiyama, Inuyama, Aichi, 484-0000

Japan: Aichi Prefecture / Nagoya (Atsuta Matsuri/ 熱田まつり )

The 1,900 year old Atsuta Jingu Shrine is host to 70 festivals throughout the year but the largest and most auspicious of these is the Atsuta Matsuri (Shobu-sai). The shrine, hidden among 1,000 year old cypress trees, is located in Nagoya in the Aichi Prefecture. It is said to be the home of the legendary Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi or the Sacred Sword Kusanagi, one of the three Imperial regalia.

On June 5th of every year, the Atsuta celebration takes place with parades, taiko drumming, martial arts displays and fireworks. The highlight of the festival is the five Kento Makiwara, large floats decorated with 365 lanterns. These floats are displayed at the entrance gates to the shrine and are lit up between the hours of 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM.

The Atsuta festivities begin at 10:00 AM with a special ceremony held in front of the shrine’s main sanctuary. Here, the Emperor’s messenger and the shrine’s priests pay homage to the gods of the shrine. A special dance called the Atsuta Kagura is performed to the tune of Japanese flutes and taiko drums. It is said that this local dance has been performed at the shrine since the shrine’s inception 1,900 years ago. The word kagura means god entertainment and refers to a form of Shinto theatrical dance that predates Noh. Visitors to the shrine during the matsuri will also have an opportunity to see kyudo (Japanese archery) and kendo (type of Japanese fencing).

In the evening, night stalls line the temple grounds offering delicious local delicacies and traditional matsuri fare. The fireworks take place at the Jingu Koen (Park) from 7:50 PM to 9:00 PM.

The festival is free to attend and the shrine can easily be accessed via the JR Tokaido Line from Nagoya Station to Atsuta Station.

Address:                      1-1-1 Jingu-Nishi, Atsuta-ku, Nagoya

Website                       http://www.atsutajingu.or.jp/jingu/shinto/reisai.html/